Squabble erupts over Cline Avenue bridge project
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 April 17, 2014 6:50PM
Artist's rendering of the new Cline Avenue looking east near the Riley Road interchange.
Updated: May 19, 2014 2:13PM
PORTAGE — State Rep. Edward Soliday told Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. on Thursday to stop making the Cline Avenue bridge project in East Chicago a “political football.”
Soliday’s comments came at a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission board meeting after McDermott, a Democrat, complained about a private company charging tolls for the bridge saying the state was treating Lake County unfairly.
McDermott threatened to vote against adding the bridge project in NIRPC’s 2040 master plan and its 2014-17 transportation improvement program.
“If you vote against it, fine. Nobody in the state is going to care for five minutes,” Soliday said. “If you’re going to continue to go down the path you’re going down, it’s going to continue to hurt us.”
The NIRPC board, with McDermott’s “no” vote, approved adding the Cline bridge to its master plan along with a six-lane widening of Interstate 65 from U.S. 231 to Indiana 2 in Lowell.
Soliday, a Valparaiso Republican, said East Chicago owns the land and agreed to the construction of the toll bridge. He said the state would never agree to spending $250 million on the bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal that serves about 35,000 vehicles a day.
McDermott argued it wasn’t fair to charge steelworkers as much as $3 for each trip across the bridge. The cost of the tolls has been estimated between $2.25 and $3.25.
“If I was a steelworker, I’d just stay on the side streets,” McDermott said, wondering how much use the bridge will get.
Privately constructed public roadways are becoming the new reality, said Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas.
“At least it gives us an option ... user fees are becoming more of a way to fund infrastructure,” he said.
The FIGG Group, of Tallahassee, Fla., is trying to raise $250 million to build the bridge, which is being designed by American Structurepoint of Indianapolis. It’s expected to open Dec. 31, 2016.
The 26-year-old bridge was shut down in 2009 after state inspectors determined it was structurally unsound. It was demolished in 2011.
Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, a Crown Point Republican, agreed with McDermott, saying he hated to see workers have to pay a toll to go to work every day.
“This bridge should never have failed,” he said. “My personal opinion is somebody should have went to jail, I’m disappointed there wasn’t an investigation.”